This halloween let’s look into the history of Manchester’s boggarts. These are mischievous spirits that live in buildings or open spaces. We are going to listen to folk expert Paul Graney talk about some of Manchester’s most famous boggarts. The recording comes from Paul’s memory tapes – an audio biography of Paul’s life and research.
Paul starts by describing what a boggart is and explaining the derivation of the word, pointing out that variations of it appear around the world from the Caribbean to Scandanavia.
Paul is recording himself in around 1981 which means that this story about the re-appearance of the mythical ‘baum rabbit’ boggart foretelling doom at St Chad’s church in Rochdale dates from around 1971.
The next story is about a huge headless black dog which terrified drunks on Deansgate back when it was a slum area. Apparently it was exorcised around the 1860s and buried under Blackfriars bridge.
Of course Manchester’s most famous boggart is the one who lives in Boggart Hole Clough, which is now a beautiful park in the north of the city. It was said to live behind boards in the kitchen on Bell’s farm on Moston Dell. The invisible poltergeist was said to cause chaos by milking cows, and spoiling the milk, and collecting hens’ eggs only to smash them on the ground.
Farmer Bell was so annoyed by the boggart that he decided to ‘flit’ – to move to another farm. Only the boggart spoke up from a milk churn on the day the farmer and his wife were ready to move. The milk churn explained that he’d be moving with them. And so farmer Bell stayed put. That’s the legend, anyway.
Paul then plays a folk song about the boggart that tells the farmer’s story.
As usual, Paul isn’t satisfied by the all the documentary evidence about the folk tale – he wants to get as close as he can to the real history of what became Boggart Hole Clough. In fact the area was previously known as Buckley Hall Clough, and had a deep and dangerous pool in which local children enjoyed playing.
Paul speculates that the change in name might have come from concerned and inventive parents who would terrify their children away from the pool by telling them about the handy boggart myth. Paul remembers being very scared of ‘Jenny Greenpeace’ who lived, according to his own mother, under the water in a local lake.
As well as collecting folk songs and recording his own life story, Paul also taped hundreds of radio broadcasts. This is a dialect poem about a drunk who met a boggart – it reminds me in tone and rhythm of Robert Burns’s Tam O’Shanter, an Ayrshire poem also about a drunk encountering ghouls. The recital was part of a radio broadcast that Paul taped from his Whalley Range bedsit. The quality is poor but the Lancashire dialect really brings to life the power the boggart holds over the fearful and confused drunkard!
Who can tell if Manchester’s boggarts really haunt our city’s parks and buildings, or if they are just a spooky story to scare children and drunks out of doing dangerous things. Just don’t be surprised if you meet a boggart or two around the city this weekend…
Come down to Central Library on Saturday 29th between 12 and 4pm to join in our very own Spooktacular Saturday – when Central Library will be alive with ghostly family fun.
You can listen to the whole memory tape (GB124.GRANEY/1036) and poetry recital (GB124.GRANEY/1717) at Manchester Central Library.
To listen to more sound clips online check out our the Archives+ Soundcloud.